WeeklyWorker

09.02.2020
We need a bold political vision, not a bureaucratic maze

Two alternatives

James Marshall discusses the clear choice facing the Sheffield conference of the Labour left.

The idea of establishing the Labour Left Alliance was first mooted last year. Why? Because of the obvious failure of Momentum. Jon Lansman - sadly with the blessing of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott - had carried out his anti-democratic coup. To all intents and purposes Momentum became the property - the plaything - of just one man.

Consequently, the left of the Labour Party has gropingly, hesitatingly, often falteringly, moved towards some kind of unity. The crucial question, of course, is what sort of unity?

The LLA boasts of having well over a thousand signatures to its appeal. Later this month, on February 22 in Sheffield, delegates from LLA branches and affiliates will decide upon the character of the organisation. The agenda looks massively overloaded. Nonetheless, we must hope that sufficient time is allotted for serious debate. Without that we will probably get a sad repetition of past dead ends.

Essentially there are two models on offer vis-à-vis the aims and constitution. The first comes under the name of London LLA. It advocates a membership organisation and politics and structures befitting a left opposition in the Labour Party.

The other proposals for aims and constitution come from Tees LLA, Dulwich LLA and the steering committee of Labour Against the Witchhunt (and Sheffield Labour Left).[1] Differences between Tees, Dulwich and LAW’s steering committee are secondary and, from our viewpoint, politically unimportant. They amount to variations on a lowest-common-denominator theme. Unsurprisingly all of them are politically conservative and organisationally mimic the elaborate structures of the Labour Party.

Without doubt, the approach advocated by London is far superior.

Politically it is unashamedly bold. London wants to commit the LLA to “working class rule” and a transition to a stateless, moneyless society based on the celebrated principle, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

London also recognises the necessity of breaking with capitalism and its ecologically destructive cycle of production for the sake of production. Note, the International Panel on Climate Change warns that we have no more than a couple of decades before the world’s ecosystem experiences a series of devastating “tipping points”.[2]

Unfortunately, the London comrades have fluffed one of Marx’s most famous - and surely urgently relevant - conclusions. Hence we have: “1.2. Opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism, militarism and the ecological degradation of the planet through the ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production or profit.”

There is no problem with opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism and militarism. It is the “ecological degradation of the planet through the ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production or profit” which constitutes the problem.

Theoretically this formulation is illiterate. Production for the sake of production and profit are split apart, treated separately, counterposed. For the philistine this might amount to just two short words. But that is really, really stupid. It is like saying there is nothing important separating the biblical command, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, and “Thou shalt commit adultery.”[3] Only a single word distinguishes the two formulations. But there is a world of difference between them.

Marx should be read seriously and treated seriously. In Capital he logically began by defining the commodity. It is a use-value which also has exchange-value. He then painstakingly develops the category of exchange-value and eventually arrives at the equivalent form. Gold becomes money, the universal equivalent. From here he shifts from the formula C-M-C and reverses it with what we know from everyday capitalism: M-C-M.

Yet from the viewpoint of the capitalist this makes no sense whatsoever. Why engage in the trials and tribulations of production, why take the risks of having to find a buyer, when you end up with the same amount of money that you started out with?

No, the capitalist aims to realise a profit: M-C-M'. The capitalist ends with more money than they start with. According to their whims and fancies, the capitalist spends that augmented money on all manner of ‘how to spend it’ luxuries.

However, capitalism consists of many capitals. Competition forces the individual to plough the vast bulk of their profits back into production. Making bigger and bigger profits becomes a necessity in its own right. Production becomes a compulsion, driving the capitalist endlessly forward.

Hence we arrive at this passage in chapter 24:

Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets! ... Therefore save, save: ie, reconvert the greatest possible portion of surplus-value or surplus product into capital! Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake: by this formula classical political economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie, and did not for a single instant deceive itself over the birth-throes of wealth.[4]

Making a profit appears perfectly rational. The worker goes to work in order to secure wages, so as to be able to secure the means of subsistence - food, clothing, housing, transport, etc. The capitalist lays out money to hire workers in order to make a profit, with which they are able to purchase luxury food, luxury clothing, luxury housing, luxury transport, etc.

Upon investigation, however, capitalism turns out to have an irrational rationale. Because of competition, the desire to make a profit becomes a necessity which, by its own logic, crashes through every social, every natural barrier. Workers are treated as mere things; their trade union and political parties are controlled through numerous restrictive laws, neutered through corruption or simply overpowered using brute force.

Nature is pillaged, raped and used as a latrine. Ecological degradation is inevitable.

Capitalists prove not to be masters of their system. No, they are merely personifications of capital. The system controls them. As such capitalists are subject to externally imposed laws of accumulation. They are compelled to accumulate for accumulation’s sake.

Clearly, therefore, the London formulation requires a little, but vital, cut.

Theoretically it only makes sense if it reads: “1.2. Opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism, militarism and the ecological degradation of the planet through the ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production.” In other words, “or profit” should be removed.

That problem aside, London understands the necessity of linking the future we strive to achieve with the immediate programme needed to bring it about. The battle for democracy must be won. Abolish the monarchy, the standing army and the House of Lords. Establish a single-chamber parliament and disestablish the Church of England. In the same spirit of extreme democracy London calls for proportional representation and annual elections (one of the central demands of the Chartist movement). In short, the “democratic republic”.

London is no less bold when it comes to the Labour Party. Conference must be sovereign. Labour MPs should no longer be self-serving career politicians. Towards that end, they must only take the average skilled workers’ wage. A principle enshrined by the 1871 Paris Commune. LLA must oppose the very idea of career politicians. Nor must LLA become a vehicle for aspiring career politicians. A real and present danger.

Moreover, MPs must be subject to automatic reselection. The Parliamentary Labour Party must likewise be brought to heel. Subordinate the PLP to the national executive committee.

London not only envisages fighting for all pro-working class organisations to affiliate to the Labour Party: trade unions, political groups and campaigning organisations. The symbolic importance of equipping the Labour Party with a new clause four is fully appreciated. Not, it should be emphasised, an attempt to raise, Lazarus-like, Sydney Webb’s clause four from its grave. Let it rot. No, instead, a clause four inspired by the teachings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Another excellent set of proposals from London: the LLA’s annual conference must be the source of all authority. It decides policy, it elects a leadership. It can also change policy. It can also change the leadership. True, London allows for trade union and other such affiliates to the LLA. But their role is strictly limited. The LLA is envisaged as a membership organisation firmly controlled by the membership.

No less relevant, the constitution presented by London is not prescriptive. What officers are needed, what they are expected to do, the setting of membership fees, how big branches should be before being given an official imprimatur - all such details are all left open-ended. Besides being clear, simple and easy to grasp, London’s proposals have the great virtue of being mercifully short (690 words).

Long and limited

By contrast, what is on offer from Tees LLA (1,870 words), Dulwich LLA (1,550 words) and the steering committee of LAW (1,245 words), is long-winded and hopelessly dated - eg, supporting the “Corbyn leadership”.

Politically they are extraordinarily limited too. There is opposition to austerity, the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt, etc. Good, but hardly a transformative vision about what society we aspire to achieve. Capitalism, the state, wage-labour go without mention and therefore, albeit by absence, they are taken for granted, treated as natural. Nor does global warming, the climate emergency, the danger of ecological disaster rate a mention. Critics might fling accusations of climate-change denial. Unfair surely, but the comrades are undoubtedly suffering from tunnel vision.

When it comes to the Labour Party itself, perspectives are no less limited. There is the call for democracy. Once again, however, the lack of vision is obvious: eg, “bring” the PLP into line with “pro-Corbyn views”. No, we want a PLP that stands far to the left of Jeremy Corbyn’s timid politics. Leave aside his appalling record of throwing his own comrades to the wolves and appeasing the witch-hunters and the Labour right: Jeremy Corbyn’s illusory programme of running capitalism in the interests of the working class amounts to sub-reformism. In effect it is social liberalism. The rule of the working class, the abolition of wage-slavery, a moneyless, stateless society, based on need, are foreign territory for him.

The LAW proposal - like those of Tees and Dulwich - in effect mirrors the Labour Party apparatus and its organisational fetishes. Inappropriate and totally myopic. Why should a left opposition in the Labour Party copy the elaborate federal structures, intricate rules, bureaucratic checks and balances and accept the ideological boundaries set by the contemporary Labour Party? Frankly though, this is the habitual approach of too much of the British left. It reveals an internalisation of the attitudes, assumptions and interests of the labour and trade union bureaucracy.

We must explain this constantly repeated pattern of behaviour in materialist terms. It cannot be put down to individual oddity, personal weakness or some congenital tendency to betray. The Labour Party, as presently constituted, is a bourgeois workers’ party. The Labour left is the natural home for trade union militants, socialist campaigners and those committed to working class liberation. But Labour’s position as the alternative party of government also means that the Labour left is a breeding ground for careerists who, slowly or speedily, evolve to the right.

Common sense easily becomes that politics are about winning elections. Policies are put forward because they can be ‘sold’ to the electorate. Ultimately it is, of course, the press, the media, that decides what is sensible and what is to be dismissed as sectarian craziness. Anything that appears to get in the way of winning elections must therefore be avoided like the plague. Hence debate has to be restricted, bureaucratic controls imposed and awkward minorities sidelined or otherwise silenced.

Worryingly then, Tees LLA wants to bar members of “other socialist political parties”. Do we really want to impose our own version of the 1920s anti-communist bans and proscriptions? Dulwich proposes a “conduct and compliance unit”. No, no, no. By contrast, London wants all good communists and socialists to join the Labour Party … and the LLA.

LAW’s proposals can be taken as the main object of criticism. Tees and Dulwich are just slightly less dated, but longer, more complex, variations on the same dismal theme.

To all intents and purposes LAW’s steering committee wants to see LLA as a two-tier, two-chamber organisation. Conference can pass whatever resolutions it wants. Meanwhile the organising committee - made up of delegates from all manner of local branches and political and trade union affiliates, does the actual business … and goes its own way. A recipe for confusion, conflict and failure.

In other words, conference is to be a talking shop. LAW proposes a cabinet, but one neither elected nor accountable to parliament (conference). London proposes no bifurcation, no split in the lines of authority. Conference must be sovereign l

Notes

1. To read all the constitutional proposals and other motions, go to https://labourleft.org/uncategorized/all-motions-received-on-the-subject-our-structures-constitution.

2. www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/chapter-3.

3. The Wicked Bible, sometimes called Adulterous Bible or Sinners’ Bible, contained that wonderful mistake. Published in 1631 by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London, it was meant to be a reprint of the King James Bible. The compositors accidentally (?) omitted the word ‘not’ from the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:14). About a year later, the publishers were called before the Star Chamber and fined £300 (equivalent to £50,322 in modern money).

4. K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p595.

Submitted by Labour Against the Witchhunt steering committee and Sheffield Labour Left

1. Our aims

The Labour Left Alliance was set up in July 2019 to bring together groups and individuals on the Labour left in order to build a democratic, principled and effective alliance that:

 organises democratically and transparently;

 both supports Corbyn against attacks by the right, and is independent and able to criticise the leadership when necessary;

 opposes racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all other forms of discrimination and is consistently internationalist - a stance which by definition includes support for the democratic and national rights of the Palestinians;

 opposes attempts to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and opposes the witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn and the left;

 campaigns to radically transform and democratise the Labour Party and the trade unions;

 campaigns for the implementation of trigger ballots (as a step towards mandatory reselection), so that the Parliamentary Labour Party better reflects the pro-Corbyn views of the vast majority of members;

 supports and encourages struggles now against austerity and all forms of oppression;

 supports the free movement of people.

We believe in the free and open exchange of ideas and viewpoints. We do not have ‘party lines’. But, once LLA has agreed a particular action, a campaign, a leaflet, etc, we ask that supporters do not sabotage or undermine it.

2. Individual supporters

We expect all LLA supporters to be members of the Labour Party and encourage all those not already involved in local Labour Left groups to become active in one or help set one up. Our aim is to organise every single supporter in an active local or regional Labour Left group. We also welcome, on all levels of the organisation, those who have been suspended or expelled as part of the witch-hunt against the left and Jeremy Corbyn.

Individual supporters are requested to pay a minimum of £10/year to help secure the funding of the LLA.

3. The Organising Group

The OG is made up of representatives from all the groups whose affiliation to the LLA has been accepted by the OG. Affiliated groups can change their representative/s at any time with a vote by simple majority and should give notice to the LLA as soon as possible thereafter.

 All national trade unions can appoint up to three representatives, once they have paid the affiliation fee of £500/annum.

 Any local or regional trade union or Labour Party body can appoint one representative, once they have paid the affiliation fee of £100/annum.

 Every broad left national organisation or organisation representing special interests or particular groups of members with over 200 members can appoint up to two representatives, once it has paid the affiliation fee of £200/annum.

 Every broad left national organisation or organisation representing special interests or groups of members with under 200 members can appoint one representative, once it has paid the affiliation fee of £100/annum.

 Every bona fide local group (including Momentum groups) with a minimum of 10 signed up LLA supporters can appoint one representative, once it has paid the affiliation fee of £20/annum.

All representatives on the Organising Group have to be signed up supporters of the Labour Left Alliance.

Groups/organisations/trade unions that are affiliated nationally may also affiliate their regional or local branches, but these cannot send representatives to the OG to avoid duplication and overrepresentation.

The OG should meet at least quarterly, in a face-to-face or an online meeting. It can also make decisions via email or other agreed communication channels by a simple majority of those voting within a given timeframe. It produces regular minutes/reports to LLA supporters. If possible, meetings should be scheduled well in advance (at least one month).

All decisions at all levels are made by a simple majority of those voting (excluding abstentions).

The OG can set up working groups and sub-committees on any particular subject. These work closely with the relevant officer on the SC.

4. The Steering Committee

The Organising Group, at its first meeting after conference and then annually, elects a Steering Committee of the size of its own determination and in order to fill at least the following positions, which have the following responsibilities:

 Secretary and assistant secretary: Overseeing the implementation of decisions made by SC and OG; drafting email bulletins and other communications with members; compiling and distributing minutes; assisting the OG in organising its meetings, etc.

 Chair: Prepares agendas and chairs meetings of the SC and, on agreement of the OG, meetings of the OG; assists the secretary with overseeing the implementation of all decisions of the SC and OG, etc.

 National organiser: Main contact for affiliated local and national groups; helps to set up and run new local Labour Left groups, etc.

 Campaigns officer: Pulling together, sharing and publicising local experiences, motions and campaigns; seeing through any LLA campaigns agreed by the SC/OG.

 Treasurer: self-explanatory, etc.

 Social media coordinator: Overseeing the social media team; making sure there is a steady flow of content produced for public FB page and Twitter, etc.

 Trade union organiser: Organising LLA supporters in different unions; works to get local, regional and national unions affiliated to the LLA, etc.

The OG can elect and recall members of the SC at any time and by a simple majority. Where a position cannot be filled, the OG can coopt somebody from outside the OG.

The SC is in ‘permanent session’ and makes decisions via face-to-face meetings, or any other agreed ways of communication. All decisions are made by a simple majority of those voting within a given timeframe (ideally, between 24 and 72 hours).

The SC produces regular minutes and work reports for the OG. These should be produced at least monthly, but more regular at peak times.

If there is a serious disagreement on the SC, the issue should be brought to the OG to be resolved.

The SC will discuss any motions or proposals that have been submitted by affiliated, bona fide national or local groups and any motions or proposals submitted by a minimum of 10 individual members. This includes motions and proposals on national campaigns and policy. The movers of those proposals will be informed in writing of the outcome of the discussion. Should the movers disagree with the way forward/the decision by the SC, they can submit their proposals to the Organising Group, which will have to discuss it at the earliest opportunity.

Proposals to change or amend the constitution should be directed to the OG, which will decide if the matter can be decided by the OG or if a special conference should be called.

The SC is accountable to the OG, which can overturn decisions made by the SC at any time.

5. LLA conference

LLA conference meets at least once a year, but the OG or a petition by 10% of individual supporters can call a special conference at any time and on any subject.

Conference makes decisions on:

 political strategy;

 campaigning priorities;

 structures and constitution.

The OG establishes a Conference Arrangements Committee for the purposes of deciding speakers and the agenda and to determine whether motions are within the remit of LLA, etc.

The OG decides on the ratio for the election of delegates. It will allocate all members to a particular area where a democratic meeting will be held for the purpose of electing conference delegates and deciding on motions and amendments.

All affiliated local or national groups or any 10 LLA members can submit one motion and one amendment on each separate conference heading.

Submitted by London LLA

1. Our aims and principles

1.1. The Labour Left Alliance brings together organisations, groups and individuals with a view to pursuing these aims.

1.2. Opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism, militarism and the ecological degradation of the planet through the ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production or profit.

1.3. The replacement of Labour’s existing clause four with a commitment to socialism as the rule of the working class. We envisage a democratically planned economy and moving towards a stateless, classless, moneyless society that embodies the principle, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. Alone such benign conditions create the possibility of every individual fully realising their innate potentialities.

1.4. Towards that end Labour should commit itself to achieving a democratic republic. The standing army, the monarchy, the House of Lords and the state sponsorship of the Church of England must go. We support a single-chamber parliament, proportional representation and annual elections. Labour needs to win the active backing of the majority of people and should seek to form a government only on this basis.

1.5. We seek to achieve the full democratisation of the Labour Party. All MPs, MEPs and MSPs should be subject to automatic reselection. All elected Labour Party members should be expected to take no more than the average skilled worker’s wage. The Parliamentary Labour Party should be subordinated to the National Executive Committee.

1.6. We support Labour as the federal party of the working class. All trade unions, cooperatives, socialist societies and leftwing groups and parties should be brought together in the Labour Party. Unity brings strength.

1.7. We shall work with others internationally in pursuit of the aim of replacing capitalism with working class rule and socialism.

2. Structure

2.1. The Labour Left Alliance is a membership organisation. Members are required to accept our political aims and principles and pay an annual fee (to be set by the Organising Group).

2.2. We believe in the free and open exchange of ideas and viewpoints. But, once the LLA has agreed a particular action, we seek to achieve the maximum unity. That cannot be imposed - it has to be won.

2.3. We expect all LLA members to be in the Labour Party and encourage all those not already involved in local Labour Left groups to become active in one or help set one up. Our aim is to organise all members in local and regional LLA groups and branches. We also welcome, on all levels of the organisation, those who have been suspended or expelled as part of the witch-hunt against the left.

2.4. LLA conference meets at least once a year. Conference will consist of either individual members or delegates from affiliated groups or LLA branches (at a ratio to be decided by the Organising Group). Conference debates aims and principles, agrees political strategy, votes on motions and elects a leadership.

2.5. If 30% of affiliated groups and branches or 30% of individual members so wish, there will be a special conference.

2.6. Affiliated groups, LLA branches or any 10 LLA members can submit one motion and one amendment to conference.

3. Organising Group

3.1. The OG functions as the leadership of the LLA. The OG is elected at conference. Conference decides on the size and functions of the OG.

3.2. The OG elects its own officers on the basis of immediate recallability. The OG can coopt members, given particular needs. While coopted members shall have speaking rights, they will have no voting rights.

3.3. The OG should meet at least quarterly, in a face-to-face or an online meeting. It can also make decisions via email or other agreed communication channels by a simple majority of those voting within a given timeframe. It produces regular minutes/reports to LLA supporters. If possible, meetings should be scheduled well in advance (at least one month).

3.4. The OG decides on the level of affiliation fees for groups and organisations and needs to approve all requests for affiliation.

3.5. All decisions at all levels are made by a simple majority of those voting (excluding abstentions).

3.6. The OG can set up working groups and sub-committees on any particular subject.